Revisit Security Sector Reform in Cambodia

Thursday, 17 July 2014; Khmer Times

PHNOM PENH, (Khmer Times) – Security, development, the rule of law, justice, and human rights are essential preconditions for sustainable peace. After more than three decades of civil war and armed conflict, Cambodia has confronted a number of security challenges related to its security sector ranging from demobilization and reintegration to modernization and professionalization.

Security Sector Reform (SSR) is more than just a military reform. It needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner in the context of a broader national reform effort. It aims to enhance the effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability of the armed forces, the police and the other security services.

The security sector includes both state and non-state actors. Among the state actors are the security providing institutions, such as the armed forces, paramilitary forces, police and gendarmerie, intelligence services, border/coast guards, criminal courts, and prisons.

Security management and oversight institutions consist of the relevant government ministries, the parliament, the judicial authorities, and independent oversight bodies. The non-state actors include armed groups, private military and security firms, customary or informal justice providers.

So far, the government of Cambodia has shown its political will to pursue security reforms. At the first Phnom Penh Strategic Forum in 2012, Defence Minister Tea Banh, stated; “In fact, the transformation and development of a country’s security must be done in a broad context in the socio-economic and political reform. The security reform cant be separated from other priorities and strategies of a nation.”

Military and Police

Reform measures largely concentrated on the military and police as the two main institutions charged with the provision of security. Institutions of oversight, such as the judiciary and the National Assembly, have attracted less attention.

Reform of the armed forces is emphasized by the Cambodian government, in light of the country’s history of conflict and the desire to avoid any relapse. A comprehensive approach to SSR would link military and defence reform with judicial reform, police reform and intelligence reform in order to make all reforms coherent and mutually reinforcing. Also, it would enhance civilian control and democratic accountability of the armed and other security forces.

It is therefore necessary for the international community to actively engage with the Royal Government of Cambodia in promoting dialogue and discussion on SSR in order to reach a wider public consensus on the issues and proceed with more inclusive implementation based on a multi-stakeholder approach.

Reforms in the security sector have so far not been embedded in overarching national reform policies such as a national development policy or a national security policy. SSR should be viewed as an integral part of the national development strategy, and therefore addressed in a coherent and comprehensive manner based on a broad and inclusive assessment of national security needs. SSR should be at the heart of the development of a national security policy, as such a policy articulates the priorities for national and human security and the capacities required to meet them. The recent establishment of the Supreme National Defence Council augurs well in this regard and could provide an institutional home for Cambodia’s approach to SSR.

Private Security Companies

Private security companies have emerged as important actors in the security sector. While creating additional job opportunities for many unemployed people, some of these companies also seek to employ personnel of the Cambodian armed and other security forces on a for-profit basis. This practice, whereby officers and soldiers may be using their weapons for the sake of private companies, has further contributed to the increase in armed crime.

Finally, one ought to keep in mind that the security sector has unique characteristics given its central role in guaranteeing the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Reforms in this sector touch upon the traditional core function of the state and thus the most sensitive area of state sovereignty. SSR projects are not only technically very complex; they are above all highly political undertakings, implying decisions relating to the political system, societal values and national identity.

Properly implemented SSR will provide the security forces with capacity commensurate with security needs and available resources; it will enhance their effectiveness and efficiency through external scrutiny; and it provides the security forces the legitimacy and societal acceptance, which they may not enjoy, were they not under democratic, civilian control.

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